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Spenser has the like thought :
“ From thence a fairy thee unweeting reft
There as thou slep’st in tender swadling band,
Such men do changelings call, so chang’d by fairy theft.” It was thought that fairies could only change their weakly and starveling elves for the more robust offspring of men, before baptism, whence the above custom in the Highlands. One of the methods of discovering whether a child belongs to the fairies or not, is printed in a book entitled, A Pleasant Treatise of Witchcraft. See Grose's Account.
The word changeling, in its modern acceptation, implies one almost an idiot, evincing what was once the popular creed on this subject; for as all the fairy children were a little backward of their tongue, and seemingly idiots, therefore stunted and idiotical children were supposed changelings. This superstition has not escaped the learned Moresin : “Papatus credit albatas mulieres, et id genus larvas, pueros integros auferre, aliosque suggerere monstruosos, et debiles multis partibus ; aut ad baptisterium cum aliis commutare, aut ad templi introitum." Papatus, p. 139.
Pennant, in his History of Whiteford, &c. p. 5, speaking of "the Fairy Oak,” of which also he exhibits a portrait, relates this curious circumstance respecting it: “In this very century, a poor cottager, who lived near the spot, had a child who grew uncommonly peevish ; the parents attributed this to the fairies, and imagined that it was a changeling. They took the child, put it in a cradle, and left it all night beneath the tree, in hopes that the tylwydd tèg, or fairy family, or the fairy folk, would restore their own before morning. When morning came, they found the child perfectly quiet, so went away with it, quite confirmed in their belief.”
Waldron, in his description of the Isle of Man (Works, 1731, p. 128), tells us : “The old story of infants being changed in their cradles is here in such credit, that mothers are in continual terror at the thoughts of it. I was prevailed upon myself to go and see a child, who, they told me, was one of these changelings, and indeed must own was not a little surprised as well as shocked at the sight. Nothing under heaven could have a more beautiful face; but though between five and six years old, and seemingly healthy, he was so far
from being able to walk or stand, that he could not so much as move any one joint: his limbs were vastly long for his age, but smaller than an infant's of six months : his complexion was perfectly delicate, and he had the finest hair in the world : he never spoke nor cryed, eat scarce any thing, and was very seldom seen to smile; but if any one called him a fairy-elf he would frown, and fix his eyes so earnestly on those who said it, as if he would look them through. His mother, or at least his supposed mother, being very poor, frequently went out a chairing, and left him a whole day together: the neighbours, out of curiosity, have often looked in at the window to see how he behaved when alone, which, whenever they did, they were sure to find him laughing, and in the utmost delight. This made them judge that he was not without company more pleasing to him than any mortal's could be; and what made this conjecture seem the more reasonable, was, that if he were left ever so dirty, the woman at hier return saw him with a clean face, and his hair combed with the utmost exactness and nicety." He mentions (ibid. p. 132,) • Another woman, who, being great with child, and expecting every moment the good hour, as she lay awake one night in her bed, she saw seven or eight little women come into her chamber, one of whom had an infant in her arms. They were followed by a man of the same size, in the habit of a minister.”. A mock christening ensued, and “they baptized the infant by the name of Joan, which made her know she was pregnant of a girl, as it proved a few days after, when she was delivered.”
It appears anciently to have been customary to give a large entertainment at the churching, and previous to that at the christening.
Harrison, in his Description of Britain, in Holinshed's Chronicles, complains of the excessive feasting, as well at other festive meetings, as at “Purifications of women.” In
See Dr. Whitaker's History of Craven, p. 220, where Master John Norton “gate leave of my old lord to have half a stagg for his wife's churching" on which he observes in a note, “ Hence it appears that thanksgivings after child-birth were antiently celebrated with feasting." For this custom I have a still older authority: "In duobus hogsheveds vini albi empt. apud Ebor. erga Purificationem Dominæ, tam post partum Magistri mei nuper de Clifford, quam post partum Magistri mei nunc de Clifford, lxvis. viijd." Compotus Tho. Dom. Clifford ao 15 Hen. VI. or
the Pleasant Historie of Thomas of Reading, 1632, we read : “Sutton's wife, of Salisbury, which had lately bin delivered of a sonne, against her going to church prepared great cheare: at what time Simon's wife, of Southampton, came thither, and so did divers others of the clothiers wives, onely to make merry at this churching feast." In the Batchellor's Banquet, 1677, the lady is introduced telling her husband: “You willed me (I was sent for) to go to Mistress M. churching, and when I came thither I found great cheer, and no small company of. wives ;” and the lady is asked: “If I had ever a new gown to be churched in." Among Shipman's Poems, 1683, is one dated 1667, and entitled, “ The Churching Feast,--to Sir Clifford Clifton, for a fat doe," p. 123.
The poem entitled Julia's Churching, or Purification, how. ever, in Herrick's Hesperides, p. 339, makes no mention of the churching entertainment :
“Put on thy holy fillitings and so
Provide a second epithalamie." In the first volume of Proclamations, in the archives of the Society of Antiquaries of London, p. 134, is preserved an original one, printed in black letter, and dated the 16th of November, 30 Henry VIII. in which, among many “laudable ceremonies and rytes” enjoined to be retained, is the following: “Ceremonies used at purification of women delivered of chylde, and offerynge of theyr crysomes.”
In a most rare book, entitled 'A Parte of a Register, contayninge sundrie memorable matters, written by divers godly and learned in our time, which stande for and desire reformation of our Church, in discipline and ceremonies, accordinge to the pure worde of God and the lawe of our lande,' 4to. said by Dr. Bancroft to have been printed at Edinburgh by Robert Waldegrave (who printed most of the Puritan books and libels in the latter end of Queen Elizabeth's reign), p. 64, in a list of "grosse poyntes of Poperie, evident to all men, is enumerated the following: “The Churching of women with this psalme, that the sunne and moone shall not burne them :” as is ibid. p. 63, “ The offeringe of the woman at bir Churching.'
Lupton, in his first book of Notable Things, ed. 1660, p. 49, says: “If a man be the first that a woman meets after she comes out of the church, when she is newly churched, it signifies that her next child will be a boy; if she meet a woman, then a wench is likely to be her next child. This is credibly reported to me to be true.”
In Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland, xxi. 147, parish of Monquhitter, it is said: “It was most unhappy for a woman, after bringing forth a child, to offer a visit, or for her neighbours to receive it, till she had been duly churched. How strongly did this enforce gratitude to the Supreme Being for a safe delivery! On the day when such a woman was churched, every family, favoured with a call, were bound to set meat and drink before her: and when they omitted to do so, they and theirs were to be loaded with her hunger. What was this, but an obligation on all who had it in their power to do the needful to prevent a feeble woman from fainting for want?”
The learned Dr. Moresin informs us of a remarkable custom, which he himself was an eye-witness of in Scotland: they take, says he, on their return from church, the newly-baptised infant, and vibrate it three or four times gently over a flame, saying, and repeating it thrice, “Let the flame consume thee now or
Borlase, from Martin's Western Islands, p. 117,
Atque hodie recens baptizatos infantes (ut vidi fieri ab anicula in Scotia olim qui sui papatus reliquias saperet) statim atque domum redierint in limine oblatis eduliis bene venire dicunt, statimque importatos, anicula, sive obstetrix fuerit, fasciis involutos accipit,'et per flammam ter quaterve leniter vibrant, verbis his additis, “Jam te flamma, si unquam, absumat, terque verba repetunt.'" Papatus, p. 72.
tells us : “The same lustration, by carrying of fire, is performed round about women after child-bearing, and round about children before they are christened, as an effectual means to preserve both the mother and infant from the power of evil spirits.” It is very
observable here, that there was a feast at Athens, kept by private families, called Amphidromia, on the fifth day after the birth of the child, when it was the custom for the gossips to run round the fire with the infant in their arms, and then, having delivered it to the nurse, they were entertained with feasting and dancing.
Grose tells us there is a superstition that a child who does not cry when sprinkled in baptism will not live. He has added another idea, equally well founded, that children prematurely wise are not long-lived, that is, rarely reach maturity: a notion which we find quoted by Shakespeare, and put into the mouth of Richard the Third.
In the Statistical Account of Scotland, 1793, vii. 560, Parishes of Kirkwall and St. Ola, we read that the inhabitants “would consider it as an unbappy omen, were they by any means disappointed in getting themselves married, or their children baptized, on the very day which they had previously fixed in their minds for that purpose.” Ibid. xiv. 261, 1795,
1 In Memorable Things noted in the Description of the World, 8vo. p. 113, we read: “ About children's necks the wild Irish hung the beginning of St. John's Gospel, a crooked nail of a horse-shoe, or a piece of a wolve's skin, and both the sucking child and nurse were girt with girdles finely plated with woman's hair: so far they wandered into the ways of errour, in making these arms the strength of their healths." Ibid. p. 111, it is said : “ Of the same people Solinus affirmeth, that they are so given to war, that the mother, at the birth of a man child, feedeth the first meat into her infant's mouth upon the point of her husband's sword, and with heathenish imprecations wishes that it may dye no otherwise then in war, or by sword.” Giraldus Cambrensis saith, "At the baptizing of the infants of the wild Irish, their manner was not to dip their right arms into the water, that so as they thought they might give a more deep and incurable blow." Here is a proof that the whole body of the child was anciently commonly immersed in the baptismal font. See also Gough's edit. of Camden, 1789, jii. 658. Camden relates, in addition to this, that “if a child is at any time out of order, they sprinkle it with the stalest urine they can get." The following singular superstition concerning a child's bread and butter will be thought uncommonly singular: “Si puerulo panis cadat in butyrum, indicium [est] vitæ infortunatæ, si in alteram faciem, fortunatæ.” Pet. Molinæi Vates, p. 154.